Reading, the Tour


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Inspired by Kate’s York Craft Tour, I have put together my own little tour of Reading. I have made notes for all my destinations on the map and many of the places have already been written about in this blog, but I thought it would be good to put it all together.

Jacksons of Reading, knitting department

Jacksons of Reading, knitting department

For Yarn shopping the two main shops are Jacksons of Reading* and John Lewis. While John Lewis has more luxurious brands etc. I love the whole feel, smell and atmosphere of Jacksons. I like that they still have a working money-chute in the store and that the yarn is portioned up in plastic bags into jumper-size quantities. I like the wooden counters and the bespoke, handbuilt interior of the shop. I like that it’s stayed in the Jackson family since its inception in 1875, and that several generations of Reading have used – and have memories of – the store. I have always found the staff very friendly and half an hour of browsing the shelves will usually reward you with enough good-quality wool for a big project at a very reasonable price (especially when the sales are on.) John Lewis is well-stocked with lots of lovely yarns in lovely colours, but I prefer the atmosphere in Jacksons.

Fabricland has also made it onto this tour as the shop is easily missed in the quiet backstreet where it sits in the shade of the giant PRIMARK store opposite. I have found Fabricland to be an excellent place for standard cloth and they have a good range of patterns.

Not far from here are Gun Street, (where G10 was, and where Love is Awesome was held) and Sweeney Todd’s Pie Shop/Restaurant. You can either buy pies at the storefront, or you can go through to the back and order a pie with either a modest side-salad or chips, and a fine pint of local ale. The place is always filled with the amenable chit-chat of people whose pie-hunger has been sated (it is a particularly amiable sort of conversational ambience) and I love that they don’t play any music in there. I also like the connection between the community and Sweeney’s; everyone here loves this place and this place loves its home-city back in the most generous of ways. For instance when Kate Winslet won an oscar, Sweeney’s bought out an Oscar pie in celebration, including pickled onions in the recipe because allegedly Winslet’s mother wins or did win the annual pickled onion competition at the annual parish competition. How can you not love a pie shop that gleans and cooks with local lore like this?

Pies in Sweeney Todd’s Pie Shop.

So you see I love the pies. If tea and cake are your thing, Picnic in Butter Market is impossible to beat. This place serves the most wondrous selection of cake (especially the lemon polenta) and a great range of fairtrade teas and coffees. It is a place that is kind to artists and knitters, supporting the monthly Sunday knitting club (next one on 10th May) organised by Crafty Yarn.

Picnic Cafe

Also on the culinary thread, The Global Cafe (also home on Tuesday nights to the wondrous Sticks’n’String knitting group) is a great place to go for authentic Ethiopian cuisine. The WI cake from the bar is always good if you fancy something less exotic and they have a great range of drinks on sale. Quite a bit further up the hill from The Global Cafe, is Pau Brasil. It’s a tiny place and a bit out of town, but the coffee is hard to beat and I love the airy room upstairs and the authentic menu. Pau Brasil serves – from what I can see – an exclusively Brazilian menu and the food is excellent, honest, and delicious. There is a great deli where you can pick up Brazilian ingredients underneath the cafe.

The Autistic Shop

Further up from Pau Brasil, you find one of Reading’s unsung treasures – The Autistic Shop. This dimly lit grotto contains an overwhelming array of tat and is a marvellous place to pass the time sifting through discarded things in search of inspiration or a bargain. 1960s chinaware and naff kitchenware abounds, there is a giant toy box rammed with un-matching knitting needles, and rails literally heave with badly cut corduroy trousers and second hand cheapness. BUT. Occasionally you will chance upon a gem of a thing… perhaps an intricate colourwork jumper in 100% wool or an especially whimsical tea-cosy, or an offcut of amazing fabric stuffed into a basket and overlooked. There is always furniture outside and the odd time I’ve seen things like vintage radios sitting in the window. The contents of The Autistic Shop seems to change daily. It is always worth examining the stuff at The Autistic Shop or even taking the time to consider whether or not the shop actually is Autistic, and which specific charity (it’s not entirely clear) gets the proceeds from its sales.

Fanny’s Antiques

More junk can be found at Fanny’s Antiques. It is at the other end of town from The Autistic Shop, and there has been more careful curation in the selection of wares on sale. There are lovely old school desks, vintage office furniture at fair prices, (I nearly bought a wooden card-index system last time I was there, until I realised there really really is nowhere for such a thing to live) and lovely oddities like this charming miniature knitting basket (made for a dollshouse) that I picked up for about £1 last time I visited.

Miniature knitting basket from Fanny’s Antiques

You might want to time a visit to Fanny’s to coincide with the opening hours of the farmer’s market at the old cattle market. I think it’s open every other Saturday, you can check their website for details. It’s a lovely old brickwork building and there are lovely fish, bread, cheese and vegetable products on sale there. Plus, you have to go past the amazing Cow mural to get to it.

The amazing Cow mural

There are other locations on the map, getting progressively more random (the library in Palmer Park, the place where I’ve seen black swans, the mystery shop on Cumberland Road, Smelly Alley etc.) and I leave it at your discretion at what to visit, and what to pass by.

But I hope this gives you some ideas about Reading; about what can be found and done and explored whilst here, and about some of the treasures lurking in this place where I live.

*Alabamawhirly has written another great post about Jacksons and the money chute here.

7 Responses to Reading, the Tour

  1. Lucette says:

    Felix, this is a wonderful tour and you picked all the places I would enjoy wandering around. I have heard a lot about Reading, mainly eccentric stories and people through CBC, but have not actually visited.

  2. Susan says:

    In Australia, “Fanny” is an extremely rude word referring to a bit of female anatomy. Is that the case where you are? If so – goodness! – how did that shop get named that?

  3. Stephanella says:

    Well yes, we know about fannies, but it also happens to be a female’s name. So there you go…

  4. Knit Nurse says:

    Gosh, I have a whole new impression of Reading now. In fact your tour made it sound like the kind of place to organise a day trip to – something I would never have considered before!

  5. goneknitsup says:

    Glad to see the trusty Autistic Shop made it in- I was narrowly beaten to a sewing machine in there once! I love the retro glassware and china you can find in there too. Haven’t tried Pau Brasil yet either- must give it a go!

  6. colleen says:

    I think Jackson’s might be my kind of shop. I can almost smell it. And I love the chair for weary shoppers.

    I’d send my boy to that pie shop.

  7. Amy says:

    I love this! I’ve actually bought a Roberts radio from the Autistic shop, wool from Jacksons and am about to plan a trip to fabricland to make some summery skirts! My kind of Reading!

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